[LETTERS to the editor]Broaden academic focus
Korea is undoubtedly a nation of fierce competition and motivation for success. Indeed, these traits characterize Korean society today — Korean parents spend an unreasonable amount of money on private education, Korean students follow an unbelievable schedule, etc.
Let’s dwell on that last point for a while — Korean students. As one myself, I can without much hesitation say that the life that we teenagers lead in this nation is not all that exhilarating. For typical teenagers who live the typical Korean student life, it is nothing much if they exclude studying. We do have our bits and pieces of memorable moments such as exchanging jokes in class in whispers, but moments like these have come to constitute so little of our time.
The apparent reason for this phenomenon is, of course, college. College acceptance has risen to be of primary interest to students and parents. However, more than the inherent qualities and qualifications these universities offer — for example, renowned professors or solid programs — the reason for this pattern is found in a broader sense, a trend in society. Korean society is infamous for the power it has given school ties. Employment, promotion and numerous other outcomes often depend on them, and this is one of the factors that introduce such competition and ferocity to students’ lives.
If I’m able to notice this, Korean society and the Korean government must have been able to, as well. If so, what has the government or society presented as a solution to this problem? The Korean government has attempted to lessen competition among students by replacing the original scoring system, which was based on raw numbers, with a grade system, where students with scores of a certain range are all treated equally. Though the government must be given credit for this attempt, it has done nothing but cause students to obsess over one or two points that may place them in one grade level or another.
In my contemplation, I discovered a model that the Korean education system might endeavor to imitate: the American system. The college application system in the United States is different from that of Korea in that it looks for balance in students. Here are some of the factors that they consider: the grade point average, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities such as sports and music, and community service records. All these elements combined produce the college’s final decision whether a student is accepted or rejected. Therefore, one or two points of scores is not the sole determinant. For instance, someone who has a slightly lower SAT score than his peers but who has demonstrated an amazing passion for music, or someone who does not have a perfect grade point average but who has devoted himself to helping people in need, have a great chance of being accepted. This type of policy raises the notion that scores and academics are not the only important factors and that what is more crucial is that these students in their developmental stage learn to grow up to be well-balanced, unique people.
This solution, which is roughly the exact opposite of what is happening in Korea today, may be the remedy Korea needs. Most definitely, it will be difficult to implement, and there is no guarantee that all this brutal competition will die down automatically. Nonetheless, the significance of such a move is that it promotes and emphasizes certain values that Korean society has been neglecting for so long, such as community service, the arts, sports, leadership and cooperation.
Lee Yeon-hwa, a sophomore at the Korean Minjok Leadership Academy